Anthony Wilson's "The Plan of Paris" Mixes Jazz, Folk, Blues and Country With Singer/Songwriter Sensitivity
a dark album made for these times
When Anthony Wilson is not on the road playing jazz guitar, he sometimes steps into a recording booth and exits Clark Kent-like as a sensitive ‘70s era singer/songwriter.
For those more accustomed to Wilson backing Diana Krall or leading jazz ensembles on a series of Groove Note releases or providing orchestrations and/or playing on dozens of studio dates (for instance on Paul McCartney’s “Kisses on the Bottom”), his sumptuously packaged, sensitively drawn 2019 Songs and Photographs to many fans probably came as a pleasing “here’s another side of AW” surprise.
Wilson is back, this time in a more affordable, modestly presented gatefold package, with another set of intimately drawn reflections. The final 4 selections, “…dedicated to the memory and enduring legacy of US Congressman and champion of civil rights, the Honorable John Lewis”, were composed with the support of a grant from the Jazz Coalition Commission Fund, but don’t expect protestation or fiery rhetoric.
An ensemble of familiar names—Gerald Clayton (piano, keyboards), David Piltch (bass), and Jay Bellerose (drums) back Wilson (vocals, guitar and piano on “The Bridge”— probably a reference to the infamous Edmund Pettus bridge where Lewis was beaten to a millimeter of his life).
The country-ish ¾-time opener, “No Recap, No Intro” looks back at a now split relationship in which the former couple watched “Game of Thrones” and “The Wire” in the ex’s “cozy bungalow”. It doesn’t matter if this is a personal recollection. Wilson delivers it like it is. “The Plan of Paris” reiterates opener’s loss and longing (as well as the previous song’s meter) as the singer recounts a former relationship set in Paris where’s he’s returned to find her, certain he will because he carries “The Plan of Paris here in my mind.”
Sad as those two were, the next one, “A Postmaster’s Daughter” —a dreamy remembrance— begins with a dream relationship, middles with divorce and ends way downhill from there. “Dreams and Diamonds”, a song about suffering and aspirations (perhaps it’s about a migrant’s journey?) drops the jazzy feel and begins with Wilson’s expert Paul Simon-like folk fingering.
Side 2 opens with the bluesy “The Bridge”. You are in Wilson’s imagining poetically what might have been in John Lewis’s mind as he prepares to cross the Petus bridge, though absent the specifics it could be about meeting inevitable obligations and accepting fate. “Already Won” is the “jazziest” tune and the set’s most optimistic. Wilson’s playing throughout the album is clear, bracing and emotive but, in my opinion, he hits a musical peak on “Already Won”.
No, this is not a happy or celebratory album, but it is contemplative and filled with many moments of musical and emotional beauty that will take you to places everyone listening can surely relate to—at least those who have loved and lost— and in other ways its overarching ennui resonates deeply with the times.
Wilson’s arranging skills combined with his deft moves through jazz, country, folk and blues produce a richly drawn backdrop filled with saturated colors, delicate atmospherics and well-placed open spaces. Musical surprises unfold almost by the measure.
The sound here, produced by Joe Harley and Anthony Wilson, and engineered/mixed by Pete Min at Lucy’s Meat Market (an interesting studio name) is transparent, 3 dimensional, studio-dross free and intimate. If you doubt digital recording has “come of age”, this one will remove such doubts.
If Wilson’s voice has an “edge” it’s your set-up not the recording. I found that out. When everything’s “right” so will be how this recording sounds on your system. Bass, drums, guitar and piano so cleanly and properly rendered with textures, transients and body delivered in full.
You can stream it 96/24 on Qobuz (which in a genius move segued itself into “The Lonely One” from Charles Lloyd’s new “Trios: Ocean (Live)” album featuring Gerald Clayton and Anthony Wilson) and it will sound fine, but for whatever reason or reasons, Kevin Gray’s lacquer cut plated and pressed at RTI adds to the vinyl edition that pleasing mechanical “plug in” spatial depth and finely drawn intimacy some will call “distortion”.
Demo quality sound, sophisticated musical presentation capped by Wilson’s impassioned vocals make “The Plan of Paris” a memorable, worth repeating spin.